Great expectations, inconvenient truths, and the paradoxes of the dog-owner relationship for owners of brachycephalic dogs

Packer, R M A and O'Neill, D G and Fletcher, F and Farnworth, M J (2019) Great expectations, inconvenient truths, and the paradoxes of the dog-owner relationship for owners of brachycephalic dogs. PLoS One.

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Abstract

Popularity of brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds is increasing internationally despite well-documented intrinsic health and welfare problems associated with their conformation. Given this apparent paradox, greater understanding of the expectations and reality for brachycephalic dog owners and factors driving the dog-owner bond are needed. This study reports a large-scale online survey with valid responses from 2168 owners of brachycephalic dogs (Pugs: n = 789, median age of dogs 2.5 years; French Bulldog: n = 741, median age 2.0 years; Bulldogs: n = 638, median age 2.5 years). The most common owner-reported disorders in their dogs were allergies, corneal ulcers, skin fold infections and Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). One-fifth (19.9%) of owners reported that their dog had undergone at least one conformation-related surgery, 36.5% of dogs were reported with a problem with heat regulation, and 17.9% with problems breathing. Despite awareness of their dog’s health issues, 70.9% owners considered their dog to be in very good health or the best health possible. Paradoxically, just 6.8% of owners considered their dog to be less healthy than average for their breed. Dog owner-relationships were extremely strong across all three breeds. Emotional closeness to their dog was highest for owners of Pugs, female owners, and owners with no children in the household. Ownership of brachycephalic dog breeds is a complex phenomenon, characterised by extremely strong dog-owner relationships and unrealistic perceptions of good health set against high levels of disease in relatively young dogs. Perceptual errors in owner beliefs appear to exist between brachycephalic owner perspectives of their own dog’s health versus the health of the rest of their breed, which may be fuelled by cognitive dissonance processes. These novel data improve our understanding of the cognitive processes and relationships that facilitate the rising popularity of breeds that paradoxically are affected by high levels of conformation-related morbidity.

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